People may think of YouTube as no more than a place for funny cat videos and the uninteresting thoughts of strangers, but it also serves as a space for emerging artists to create and share their work. In particular, it has aided the creative aspirations of filmmakers whose only option previously would have been to seek a coveted five-minute meeting with a top-end Hollywood executive in a sweaty L.A. office. Instead, they are able to make and upload their own creations to sites like YouTube and instantly find an audience. Of course, this is not a foolproof plan for success – YouTube receives over 300 hours of uploaded content each minute so the next Titanic might indeed get lost amongst a 30 second video of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. But it is starting to bridge the gap between beginner filmmakers and Hollywood stars by giving everyone an accessible platform to release their films. Excitingly, there is a new crop of female creators who are currently shining on YouTube.
One such filmmaker is Yulin Kuang, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a double degree in Creative Writing and International Relations, and is now a director, screenwriter and filmmaker. She has been uploading her short films and various series to YouTube since 2014 and now has over 25,000 subscribers. One of her major drawcards is the intersection of her original stories with popular fandoms, a theme that recurs in a lot of her work. For instance, each episode in her series I Didn’t Write This takes a scene from one of her favourite books or a famous poem and brings it to life on screen. I was definitely very excited to see her visual interpretation of Neil Gaiman’s Dark Sonnet, one of my favourite poems, as well as scenes from books that I wish were movies like John Green’s Looking for Alaska. By choosing to bring stories that I already loved to life, she managed to evoke so many ideas embedded in those texts in just a four-minute video.
But Kuang’s real genius comes from how she uses different kinds of social media to release information about all the parts of her filmmaking process. She posts director’s commentary on her Tumblr, production design on Pinterest and behind the scenes photos on Instagram. This provides fans with a real grasp on how she makes her films as well as helps educate other aspiring filmmakers by remaining open and transparent about the whole process. Instead of a constructed look into how films are made, she communicates with fans using the mediums with which they are already comfortable. Some would argue that this takes away from the magic of the film and its carefully built and manufactured world, but it actually adds an element of awe to discover exactly how much thought and effort Kuang has put into making her films. It demonstrates that her films don’t look good because of luck or a fancy and expensive camera, but because of the work and talent with which she has crafted them.
Another example of online female talent is the Candle Wasters – a four-woman production team made up of Claris Jacobs, Elsie Bollinger, Minnie Grace and Sally Bollinger. They are based in New Zealand and make web series of modern versions of Shakespearean plays. Their first series, Nothing Much To Do, was an entirely self-funded project that grew an impressive fan-following which enabled their second project to garner its whole budget from a Kickstarter campaign. They are currently releasing their third series, Bright Summer Night, through a $100,000 grant from NZ On Air, a government-funded program dedicated to investing in New Zealand-made media. They were able to receive this grant through their success on YouTube, and obviously still enjoy using the platform as it is the home of all three of their series.
While the YouTube model may not be sustainable in the long run, it seems to be providing a great starting point for these types of filmmakers. Both Kuang and the Candle Wasters got started by releasing their content on YouTube, but they now rely on funding from exterior sources to be able to afford it. The Candle Wasters achieve this through NZ On Air, and Kuang’s short film I Ship It was picked up by The CW Seed as a short-form series. YouTube is simply the way that they have managed to release their artistic talent into the world for people to see. In a few years, it may be a different site that it achieving this same thing in a better and more effective way.
YouTube is still a relatively new platform, compared to TV and film, and most filmmakers are experimenting with finding the best kind of content that belongs there. A key advantage of its accessibility as a free to use platform is that it does not suffer from a serious gender bias like Hollywood does. Creators like Kuang and the Candle Wasters do not have to break through a glass ceiling to be able to get behind a camera and do their job – they can bypass the hierarchy of the more established industry and take their own path. And while YouTube is definitely still not free of sexism, it does provide these women with an opportunity to use their initiative and make films a little more autonomously. It also means that they get full control over what they are making and who it features. For instance, Kuang places great emphasis on representation in her films, driven by her own Asian-American background, and makes a real effort to cast as diversely as she can. And the Candle Wasters’ latest series weaves diversity of gender and sexuality into the plot of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not only gender-flipping Demetrius but also casting Meesha Rikk as Puck, who identifies as bigender.
Importantly, the success of this type of content on YouTube will hopefully send a message to traditional film studios. The popularity of creators like Yulin Kuang and the Candle Wasters demonstrates to Hollywood that these types of stories are valuable, and that the priorities of a modern audience are changing. People want to see more diverse casts and creatives, and the chance for a more interactive fan experience. With audiences now able to vote with their feet, the mainstream film industry will have to pick up its game to keep up.
Julia Faragher is a current university student with a passion for writing across all mediums, from novels and short stories to films, plays and poetry. Her adventure with writing began in November 2011, when she competed in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. Three years later, she had written three novels of more than 50,000 words each and fallen in love with writing. Since then, she has also had success writing in other areas, such as co-writing a play that won her high school competition and placing in the top 4 of last year’s ANU Interhall Poetry Slam. She also has a love for film, and served as the director, producer and writer for Dear Jasmine, winner of ‘Best Student Film’ at the Lights! Canberra! Action! Film Festival 2015. Other festival credits include Tropfest Jr, the All-American High School Film Festival and the Screen It Festival. She currently studies English, Gender Studies and Law at ANU and runs her own short film company, Skybound Productions.
This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.